Many of us may feel that the day we finished school we had "done our time" in the classroom and its influence was behind us. This could not be further from the truth.
In fact, what we learn in the classroom, through the extra-curricular activities we participate in, and in the relationships we build by being a part of an academic environment help to shape us as employees, parents, and Georgians.
Here is a break down of Georgia's budget for our education system:
* State funds in QBE formula: $6.1 billion
* Equalization: $436 million
* School Nutrition: $23 million state (we also receive $534 million federal)
* Transportation: $130 million
* School Nurses: $26 million
* Ag/Tech/Career Ed: $25 million
* Total state allotments sent out to local systems: $6.7 billion
* Total full-time-equivalent students: $1.65 million
* Total state allotments per FTE student: over $4,000
K-12 education spending makes up 43.6 percent of state general funds and accounted for 38.1 percent of the total state funds appropriated in FY12.
Improving our educational rankings and reputation are vital to creating a robust economy in Georgia that encourages corporations both large and small to stay or relocate to our state.
In order to remain competitive for new business and technology, we must look at how we compare to other Southern states.
The Southern Regional Education Board released a study in 2010 that outlines how our state stacks up compared to our neighbors who compete for the same jobs and businesses that we do.
The SREB emphasizes the importance of making sure students make steady progress towards graduating from high school on time. In 2007, 78 percent of U.S. ninth-graders reached the 12th grade in three years. The rate in the SREB region was 71 percent.
In Georgia, 128 high schools were classified as "dropout factories" in 2007.
This represented 36 percent of public high schools in the state--a greater proportion than in the nation and region. Because students who are held back in high school have a much greater chance of dropping out, states should do all they can to ensure that students stay in school.
The SREB recommends this goal be accomplished by offering an engaging curriculum, emphasizing family and community involvement, and providing for the placement of students with the best and brightest educators.
Furthermore, the senior year of high school is critical for students because they must complete their final requirements for a diploma and chart a path toward college and their careers. Unfortunately, the SREB notes that this is the time period in which many students disengage from school.
Teachers, school leaders and guidance counselors play a pivotal role in assisting students in developing an academic game plan early in high school so that they have measurable goals and milestones to focus on. Furthermore, students should not reach their senior year without completing necessary requirements along the way.
When seniors are forced to play catch-up, their chances of graduating are reduced. In Georgia, 86 percent of seniors in fall 2006 graduated from high school on time in spring 2007, a smaller percentage than in the nation and region.
Increasing high school graduation rates would not only help put more individuals on the path to success, but would also ensure that the American economy stays strong.
Annual losses to the U.S. economy exceeded $50 billion in federal and state income taxes for all 23 million U.S. high school dropouts age 18-67. The Alliance for Excellent Education estimates that, at current dropout rates, the U.S. economy could lose more than $3 trillion during the next decade.
Students who fail to graduate from high school are also significantly more likely to become single parents and to have children at young ages. Students who do not graduate high school are also significantly more likely to rely upon public assistance, be in prison, and to have significantly reduced earnings and employment prospects.
As you can clearly tell, society reaps the rewards of increased graduation rates.
One area that we can be proud that Georgia excels in is teacher pay. In 2007, for the first time, beginning teachers in the SREB median states earned slightly higher salaries than the median in the nation. This marks an important milestone for the region.
According to the National Education Association, the average salary of a Georgia public school teacher in 2008 was higher than all other states in the Southeast. We must focus on investing in our educators in order to ensure that qualified, eager teachers fill each classroom and engage each and every mind.
We must also continue to encourage parents to invest in their child's education.
Learning begins, not in the classroom, but within the family and home environment. In a recent study conducted by the University of Michigan, researchers found that the primary reason for youth dropping out of school was that the "classes just weren't interesting enough."
Students who felt that lessons being taught in the classroom weren't applicable to the real world were more likely to drop out. Researchers promote creating alternative delivery methods that attempt to address this dropout issue, such as magnet schools, smaller learning communities, offering college courses in high schools, and expanding accelerated programs.
These programs often seek to provide more relevant curriculum to increase student engagement and to encourage the positive adult-student relationships that can motivate student success.
As legislators, our focus must continue to be on the various ways that we can make Georgia the best possible place for innovative businesses to locate. This will bring jobs to our state, money to our economy, and a bright future for our children.
I am certain that one of the primary ways to achieve this goal is through a heightened attention to our education system. We must create beneficial laws and initiatives that emphasize our dedication to our K-12 school system and beyond.
While what we do as legislators will have a lasting effect on our educational system, business in Georgia, and our economy, it is important to note that hard working teachers who guide our children each day truly set the tone and foundation for educational excellence in our state. Without their hard work, growth in our state in these other areas simply cannot fall into place.
Together, we must emphasize the importance of family and community involvement in classroom learning if we aim to increase the number of Georgians graduating from high school and attending college here.
Only through investing in our youth can we ensure a brighter future and guarantee Georgia's economic growth.